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Katherena Vermette brings Métis history to life in new graphic novel series

She started out with poetry, wrote a national bestselling book and is now delving into the world of graphic novels with Pemmican Wars. It was a book Katherena Vermette didn't even know she wanted to write.
An image from Katherena Vermette's graphic novel, Pemmican Wars. (Portage and Main Press)
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She started out with poetry, wrote, The Break, a national bestselling book and is now delving into the world of graphic novels. But Katherena Vermette said she didn't even know she wanted to write it.

"I was at Portage and Main, my publisher, and I was talking with the ladies there and talking about how cool comic books are and how it's exceptionally cool when women write graphic novels because they are still an underserved audience in graphic novels," Vermette explained.

"I was also telling them how they have to get on Métis history because there's lots of Cree writers, there's lots of Anishinaabe writers but there's not a lot of Métis history. So I said, 'You have to get on that, you have to write about Metis history.' Which suddenly became me writing a graphic novel about Métis history," she added.
Author Katherena Vermette's new book, Pemmican Wars, is the first in a series of four graphic novels. (katherenavermette.com)

Then along came the character of Echo Desjardins. She's a young Métis girl who transports back in time to important moments in Métis history. Vermette described her as a quiet teenager trying to find a sense of community and identity.

In the series titled, A Girl Called Echo, Vermette said the main character is a slipstreamer. She moves from present day to the past. In the first book, Pemmican Wars, she visits Saskatchewan in 1812 where she witnesses a bison hunt, visits a Métis camp and travels along fur trade routes. But Vermette said she didn't want to explain the details of how Echo moves between worlds.

"It's just magic. It just happens."

She did say the visual representation of Echo and her worlds were created by a team. Scott B. Henderson was the graphic artist and Donovan Yaciuk was the colourist.

"I felt like that she kind of thrived in that collaborative space," Vermette said. "It felt like collaborating with Scott and with Annalee, our editor, it really felt like that's how she worked best."

For Vermette, writing about Métis characters and history is and important part of her work.

"Especially when I research into this history, it's not always told from a Métis perspective. And I think that is wrong and I think that is something many Métis historians are correcting now. And I think it's exciting to tell these stories and reclaim these stories as our own. They belong to us."